6 “And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house.
7 “You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious.
8 “But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
We often say at our little church that God’s Word will not return void–a reference to this verse from Isaiah:
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
God alone knows what purpose He has when His Word goes forth, but we can be sure that it will accomplish whatever He wills. Nonetheless, there are places in the Bible when God clearly tells us that some people just will not respond to His Word. Today’s verses from Ezekiel are one of those moments, a time when Israel was so rebellious that God knew some were not going to respond.
Let’s be clear about something: if God so desired, then His Word would move the heart of every hearer, His testimonies would cause even the most stiff-necked rebel to kneel in humble repentance. But is that the God we want, a God who manipulates our hearts to love Him? I praise God that He has chosen me to be moved by His Word, but I also know that for many years He gave me up to my own lusts and their consequences. And then, “in the fullness of time,” He opened my eyes to His Scriptures, and I saw Him for who He really is. Not everyone has such a Damascus road experience (Acts 9:1-19), but it certainly did the trick for me. Many others have been touched by the Word of the Lord, and they have turned their lives around. Others grew up so immersed in the Word that they could conceive of no other way to live. But in this generation, the faithful are the minority, and there are far more whose hearts have not been melted by the gospel of Christ.
In Ezekiel’s time, Judah had been taken into slavery in Babylon, where the Jews finally lamented their sins. But Ezekiel was still faced with preaching to a stubborn generation, telling them about God’s further judgments–and also about the promise of His glory. God tells Ezekiel that there will still be those among the Jews who are rebellious and who refuse to repent. The Lord directs Ezekiel to simply consume the Word of God and to speak it aloud among God’s people. Though “briers and thorns” surround the prophet, God tells Ezekiel to stay strong and not be swayed nor dismayed by the rebellious ones. Thought he would “dwell among scorpions”–whose poisonous words and attitudes threatened to harm him–still Ezekiel is to remain faithful and speak the Word.
I am sure that at times we all have felt we are hedged in by thorns, that poisonous words are directed at us, all because we are faithful to God and we speak His Word. We may feel as if we are making no headway among the thorns that prick us, the bitter barbs that wound us. We may even wonder if anything we do or say will have any effect at all. But God knows what will be the result of our speech, and His Word will have whatever effect He purposes. Our task is to remain strong and speak His Word, whatever it might be.
What is so wonderful about God’s Word is that its message is so hopeful. Ezekiel tells us that the scroll he was directed to eat was full of “lamentations and mourning and woe.” (Ezekiel 2:10) And yet, when the prophet ate it, it was “like honey in sweetness.” (Ezekiel 3:3)
How sweet are Your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
God’s Word may seem to be all full of judgment and wrath, but to those who love and fear the Lord it is sweet, because the ultimate promise is salvation and eternal life. Yes, there is judgment on the unrepentant, and yes, there is the promise of hell fire and torment for those who refuse God. But for those who love God and believe on His Son, Christ Jesus, there is the promise of forgiveness and glory and peace. That is sweet indeed!
As believers we will be persecuted and even ignored, we will be fenced in by briers and thorns and even attacked by scorpions who try to poison our minds with their sin. But we are called to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15), and if we face poisonous serpents, they will not harm us, for God is with us. Let us be a generation like Ezekiel, whose name means “Strengthened with God.”
10 Moreover He said to me: “Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears.
11 “And go, get to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ whether they hear, or whether they refuse.”
“Whether they hear, or whether they refuse,” God has given us this mission. So, let us receive into our hearts the sweet Word of God and speak it aloud, and allow God to work in the hearts of all men as He so wills.
Almighty God, Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and so let it be for others, too. Let Your Word be a light unto the path of all who hear, all whom You choose, all whose hearts yearn for peace with You. May Your sweet Word enter into them and melt their hearts of stone, break their stiff necks, shape their lives for You. Mold me, too, Lord God, and strengthen me to speak Your Word though briers and thorns surround me. Amen.